Despite recording a strip-sack late in the game on Sunday, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Robert Mathis was for the most part contained by the Patriots. Stopping Mathis, who racked up 59 tackles, 19.5 sacks, and 8 forced fumbles in the regular season, was truly a team effort for New England.
According to an article written on CSNNE.com today, the Patriots used ten different players to take on Mathis over the course of the game:
Tight end Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin took him on in the run game. Shane Vereen chipped him hard on the second drive of the game to give Brady time to pass in the red zone. Interior linemen Ryan Wendell and Mankins got their licks when Mathis challenged them on stunts. Even Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola -- both of whom give up about 50 pounds to Mathis -- got in his way. Amendola's best efforts helped keep Mathis clear of a Stevan Ridley touchdown run and a subsequent two-point conversion on New England's second drive of the third quarter.
But it was left tackle Nate Solder, right tackle Marcus Cannon and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui who got the majority of chances to lock horns with Mathis. And at times, they helped one another.
Of the 13 plays Solder met up with Mathis, he was part of a double-team (with Edelman, Vereen, Hoomanawanui or Mankins) on five. During the four one-on-ones Solder and Mathis had on pass plays, Solder won two, lost one (the late-game strip sack) and had one draw when he was almost pushed back into Brady but ultimately held his ground. It was a solid performance from a player one would expect to hold up relatively well even against the stoutest rushers.
Writer Phil Perry did a great job in this piece breaking down how all of these players worked together to wear down Mathis and prevent him from getting to Brady all game. He highlights both Matthew Mulligan and Hoo-man as being key parts of that. They may not be flashy superstarts constantly finding the endzone like Rob Grokowski and Aaaron Hernandez, but they have proven to be excellent in both pass and run blocking.
This week in Denver, the Patriots are lucky to not have to worry about yet another prolific pass rusher, as Von Miller remains on the sideline with a torn ACL (and is actually set to have surgery on Thursday). The most talented lineman coming off the edge for the Broncos will be Shaun Phillips, who apparently has some sort of man-crush on Brady.
Hopefully, haven figured out how to slow down Robert Mathis, the worst is in the rear-view mirror for a Patriots offensive line that has truly rounded into form after mid-season concerns.